October 7, 2022 - TRA Austin -
In a letter dated October 5, Texas Department of Transportation Executive Director Marc Williams has asked Federal Railroad Administration chief Amit Bose to consider federal funding options for conventional intercity passenger rail expansion across multiple corridors in the state.
Texas Rail Advocates has learned that the letter of interest was filed in response to FRA Docket 2022-0031 which calls for states to submit "expressions of interest" for consideration of billions of dollars in federal rail grants that will be distributed to interested states. The Corridor Identification and Development Program is one section of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) that was passed by Congress in 2021. Funds are to be distributed by the Federal Railroad Administration.
"We are very pleased to hear that Executive Director Williams has taken this important step forward to have Texas in the running for consideration of future passenger rail services," according to Texas Rail Advocates President Peter LeCody. "We were pleasantly surprised to hear that there were five rail corridors being put forward for consideration, two more than we had actually asked TxDOT to pursue. With our state continuing to grow in population and with strong economic development we just have to have multiple ways to move people, and that's in addition to our highway system."
Here's what's in the TxDOT letter:
- New and enhanced conventional intercity service options in the Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Study ("I-35 Corridor) that include connecting the Amtrak San Antonio station to the Rio Grande Valley. The corridor is only served by the once-a-day long distance Texas Eagle between Fort Worth to San Antonio.
- Renewed service from Dallas to Houston (via College Station). This popular Amtrak service ended in the late 90's during budget cuts and is eligible for restoration in the IIJA restoration grant phase.
- Additional service between San Antonio and Houston. The two cities are only connected by the tri-weekly Sunset Limited. An additional station stop near the mid-point at Flatonia, Texas has been requested by city leaders. It would serve many cities and counties without intercity connections between Houston and San Antonio.
- Additional train sets on the Heartland Flyer from Fort Worth to Oklahoma City. At present the joint Oklahoma-Texas DOT partnered service only has one round-trip a day that includes a stop in Gainesville.
- New service from Dallas to east of Marshall, TX connecting to Amtrak's national service at Meridian, MS. The connection would allow North and East Texans to reach northern Louisiana cities, Atlanta and onward to the east coast on the Amtrak Crescent service, which originates in New Orleans.
The IIJA funding allows Amtrak to cover capital costs for freight railroad improvements to gain capacity for trains and it also covers the majority of start-up costs for Texas.
"To ensure Texas' participation in this once-in-a-generation effort we are calling on our lawmakers to budget for a kickstart appropriation of $200 million in the upcoming January session," said LeCody. "We have a record state budget surplus and we know that by coming up with a 20 to 30 percent match for the federal rail grants we would stand a good chance of having these corridors considered in the passenger rail programs. Capital improvements that would be done on the existing freight rail network to allow passenger train slots would also benefit rail shippers with the movement of goods trains as well."